Stone's 17th Anniversary: The Home Team Wins

Eno Sarris, August 20, 2013

Stone invited 50 brewers to southern California this weekend to celebrate their 17th anniversary. There were 211 beers on tap. 93 of those beers were pale ales of one sort or another.

That includes pales ales as diverse as Oskar Blues' G'Knight Imperial Red IPA, Black Market Brewing's 4th Anniversary Ale Pinneaple Pale, Stone's 17th Anniversary Grapefruit Zest Gotterdaemmerung IPA, Great Divide's Wood-Aged IPA, and Sierra Nevada's Beer Camp Belgian-Style Black IPA -- but also a lot of Just Pale Ales. And five of the 50 breweries -- Mad River, Rubicon Brewing, Knee Deep, Breakwater and Firestone Walker -- brought *only* pale ales.

You could say the event was fairly pale.

That's not to say that the beers weren't good. The Grapefruit Zest 17th Anniversary Stone was interesting in that it finished with grapefruit instead of starting with it. The G'Knight, the Doubel Hubble from Haven Brewing, the RuinTen and the Enjoy By 9/13/13 were all excellent pale ales of different ilks. This correspondent was happy to research them for your benefit.

But almost half of the available being pale ales was a bit of surprise. We've covered this from the perspective of our leaderboards, and now we've encountered it in the wild. Craft beer is pretty pale.

The future might be in Saisons but that came through more in quality than quantity. Saisons actually equalled the number of Stouts at this affair, with ten each, but the top end shown through. Some of the best beers in show, according to our crew, were the Saison du BUFF from Dogfish Head, Victory and Stone, The Tiger Cub Saison aged in white wine barrels from Stone, and La Merle from North Coast -- all great Saisons on tap that weekend.

But if you are a sour-head the pickings were very slim. Russian River -- as always -- came through with Propitiation, a sour porter, and Jolly Pumpkin (another famed sour-producer) brought La Roja, a great Flanders sour, but otherwise the landscape was fairly barren. At least for those of us that didn't get access to the rare beers section of the park.

If there was complaint about the festival -- it wasn't the amount of beer offered to the patrons, as the 15 third-size beers were quite enough at an average ABV above five percent -- it was that Stone outshone them all. Of course they did, it was their party. But that meant that almost every 'special' or 'rare' beer on tap at the festival was from the home team.

Perhaps that was on purpose, but should it have been? Russian River was there. They could have filled three booths with rare beers. Pizza Port brought four beers and none of them have a wide reach -- thanks, guys -- but NoCal's North Coast brought Le Merle, Old Rasputin and PranQster. AleSmith, right down the street from the festival, brought an IPA and a Cream Ale. I once had a Vietnamese Coffee Speedway on Nitro at their San Diego brewery. Coronado! Also from San Diego! Brought the Idiot IPA and an Orange Avenue Wit, which you can find at the next Padres' game.

Stone brought 54 beers to the party. 54. And there were great beers. Like the Stone Smoked Porter with Vanilla Bean. The Stone 11.11.11 Vertical Epic aged in Red Win Barrels. The Stone Farms Dandelion IPA. The grapefruit 17th anniversary IPA.

Maybe Stone gave everyone a small amount of taps on purpose. No beer company had more than Oskar Blues' five taps, and most had four or fewer taps. Not having a ton of taps puts pressure on a company -- at least one has to be the flagship beer. How many special beers can you bring if you have three taps. And that makes Stone's beers more special in comparison.

Or maybe some companies didn't take enough risks with their selection. Bear Republic brought two beers -- Cafe Racer 15 Double IPA, and Cher Ami, a Belgian single -- and neither was Racer 5. Pizza Port's four beers -- The Jetty IPA, Michel Tangelo Tangelo Wheat, Raceway IPA, and Chronic Amber -- are really only available in Carlsbad. We can't blame it all on Stone if some companies brought the special stuff. 

And how much can we complain at all if we got 15 tasters of excellent beers from breweries all around the country. If Stone dominated the event -- and brought a ton of pale ales, too -- what's the problem.

Stone's a damn good brewery, and pale ales are interesting beers.